Wednesday 21 March 2018

Pressure on Gilmore as UK has dual embassies in Rome

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

THE Vatican is allowing the British government to locate two ambassadors in the same embassy complex in Rome -- a revelation which will increase the pressure on the Government.

The British embassies to Italy and the Vatican share the same address -- Via XX Settembre 80A -- in Rome. But the British embassy to the Vatican insisted yesterday that it was housed in a separate building inside the complex with its own staff and own ambassador.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore has consistently said he will review the closure of Ireland's embassy to the Vatican if it relaxed its demand for two embassies in Rome, housed in two separate buildings, with two separate sets of staff.

This is based on the Vatican's desire to guard the independence of its 100-acre sovereign city-state enclave in Rome.

But the Vatican's acceptance of the British government's 'co-located' embassies shows there is room for manoeuvre to defuse the controversy.

The British embassy to the Vatican confirmed yesterday that it was operating "from the same site" as the British embassy to Italy since 2005. It said the two embassies were based in separate buildings in the purpose-built complex and the two ambassadors live in separate residences.

"We operate separately -- staff are not interchangeable and are separately accredited -- although some logistical support is shared," it said in an email to Fine Gael Dublin Mid-West TD Derek Keating.

The British decided to locate both embassies there on security grounds after the terrorist bombing of the British consulate general in Istanbul in Turkey in 2003.

Mr Keating said yesterday that the Vatican needed to show some flexibility by allowing two separate ambassadors in the Villa Spada building.

Fine Gael Clare TD Pat Breen and Labour Galway East TD Colm Keaveney backed his call.

The Villa Spada was bought by the Irish State in 1946 for use as the embassy to the Vatican -- and is going to be used by the Irish ambassador to Italy. That will save the State around €445,000 which it was paying to rent a building for the Irish embassy in Rome.

The new 'non-resident ambassador' to the Vatican, Department of Foreign Affairs secretary general David Cooney, may have an early opportunity to raise this with the Vatican. He is travelling to Rome on Saturday for the ordination of new cardinals.

Mr Gilmore has previously said there were "some indications that the Vatican may be willing to show some flexibility with regard to the co-location of embassies and offices".

A Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman confirmed last night that the Villa Spada did not fit the current Vatican requirements to have both embassies in separate buildings.

"While Vatican officials have expressed a willingness to discuss our needs they have made no commitment as regards the relaxation of the Holy See's existing requirements," he said.

The Irish Independent has learned that a motion calling for the re-opening of the embassy is being submitted by an FG branch in Longford in advance of tomorrow's deadline for motions for the party ard fheis on March 31.

Irish Independent

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